Makenzie's father, Joe Wethington, made the 200-mile drive to Oklahoma with her and was the first to jump from the plane that morning. The skydivers were making a static-line jump, where a lanyard attached to the plane is connected to the parachute, causing the chute to open automatically.
Since she was a young girl growing up in Texas, Makenzie Wethington had dreamed of one day jumping out of an airplane.
But the day her dream came true in Oklahoma turned into a nightmare. Her parachute malfunctioned, sending her spinning uncontrollably toward the ground.
Wethington, 16 at the time, miraculously survived the 3,500-foot fall on Jan. 25, 2014, in Chickasha.
Now, an Oklahoma City federal judge has awarded Wethington $760,000 in damages. The owner of a closed skydiving business was ordered to pay the judgment.
U.S. District Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti on Wednesday awarded $400,000 for Wethington's past and future physical pain and suffering and $350,000 for her mental pain and suffering. The judge also awarded $10,000 for future medical expenses.
A negligence lawsuit, filed by Wethington's mother, accused the owner of Pegasus Air Sports, Robert Swainson, of failing to properly train Wethington for the jump. The lawsuit also alleged her parachute was “inappropriate” for her skill level, as well as "30 years old" and in poor condition.
Swainson, 70, closed the Chickasha-based skydiving business in December 2014 and has since moved overseas. He contended the lawsuit had no merit and Wethington “injured herself.”
“I have been convinced that the reason for her accident was that she did not follow all of the instruction that she received by myself prior to the jump,” Swainson wrote in a court document in 2015. “I believe that she panicked when things did not go exactly as expected and did nothing to correct it.”
The judge, though, accepted Wethington's allegations that her training was "inadequate and the parachute assigned to her was too small and fast for a person of her young age and relative experience."
“It's like giving a 16-year-old a Porsche,” Wethington's attorney, Robert Haslam, said last month.
Haslam said he'll attempt to collect the judgment by filing another legal action in London.
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